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Jan 26 2014

Yet Another Case Of Ignorance = God

Science looks for laws by which
The real world is constrained
But, gee willikers—free will occurs,
Which physics can’t explain!

So… physics must be incomplete;
A reasonable conclusion—
Of course, there is another one:
Free will is an illusion.

A writer over at The Daily Paul (don’t laugh!–their motto is “Peace, Gold, Love”) demonstrates the problem of “a little learning is a dangerous thing”. And a pet peeve of mine along the way.

I don’t claim any special aptitude or deep understanding of the popular level physics I read, but I was well on my way to adopting the atheist position as my default simply because God was not mentioned as anything intellectually serious anywhere in my searching. To me God was just a made up person, and had no explanatory value.

I never heard of any logical or intellectual arguments for God’s existence, and never knew such a thing existed. There is just no information on that kind of thing available to a regular, non religious child. Public education, popular media, television, science books, all more or less assume atheism.

I was a comfortable atheist for over 15 years, not giving it much thought as a controversial matter, and simply enriching and coloring in my atheism with reading on biology, evolution, and science.

I spent my time and mental energy exploring every other area of contention and controversy — my true passion — and especially political and historical controversy, with a free open mind and the strongest stomach for unpalatable Truth I’ve ever come across.

A simple understanding of popular level physical sciences… and an unquestioned belief in a free mind. Really, it was only a matter of time until one or the other had to go. And since his passion was political (and, given where he’s writing, we can assume Libertarian), the notion that his own thinking was constrained by the same laws that describe the rest of the universe was inconceivable.

You can never know, so you have to either accept God as the ultimate answer, or else maintain a posture of permanent skepticism, and bear all the heavy weight of that skepticism your whole life, holding off all the temptations and comforts offered by a final answer, and the peace it brings.

I accepted that some people throw in the towel earlier than others and that atheism was a privilege of the few, requiring intellectual strength and hardiness.

But finally I actually started listening the the strongest proponents of theism and their strongest arguments, and realized that the matter is far from settled, and that there are powerful philosophical arguments for God, and also powerful defeaters for belief in naturalism, not least of which was the requirement that you adopt a total skepticism of all our reasoning and thinking faculties on a belief system where the mind is formed haphazardly for survival.

And since he feels he has a free, functional, and rational mind, clearly physics and biology cannot be trusted. Free will as a gateway drug to theism.

The thing is, all too many who look to science, for matters of religion or mind, are looking at the wrong sciences. Yes, there is a lot of pseudoscience under the big tent that is psychology, but the areas of sensation & perception, memory, and learning are where we can find that just because our thinking feels free, that doesn’t mean that it is. Turns out, the stuff between our ears does act the same way the rest of the universe does. No magic, either free-will or god, needed to intervene.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    machintelligence

    Unqualified free will, the kind that libertarians want, is just holding out for magic. There is a more limited definition, that of moral competence, that is compatible with determinism and good enough for most of us.I agree with Dan Dennett that compatibilism is the way to go.

  2. 2
    Randomfactor

    holding off all the temptations and comforts offered by a final answer

    Vonnegut’s “foma,” comforting lies chosen over uncomfortable truth.

  3. 3
    Cuttlefish

    machineintelligence, I find even Dennett’s compatibilism annoying and dangerous. Supposing I can tweak the environment so that I can *make* you *want* to do something. It will feel like a free choice, and there is no temptation to examine the reasons, no reason to suspect you are being manipulated.

    Recognizing that we are controlled by our environments, ironically, allows us not to be taken advantage of.

  4. 4
    jonP

    I never heard of any logical or intellectual arguments for God’s existence

    Me neither, and as a hobby, I consciously seek out these arguments.

    there are powerful philosophical arguments for God, and also powerful defeaters for belief in naturalism,

    Do these people even listen to themselves? I have friends who are christian apologists, and I read their books, and I watch their lectures, and I go to their study groups. I have gone out of my way, and spent an embarrassing amount of time, trying to find these powerful arguments. They keep telling me that the arguments are there, but they never tell me what the powerful arguments are. Nothing I have ever been told by any apologist or True Believer(tm) has ever been even a little bit conclusive. I can not conclude anything other than it is complete nonsense.

    I accepted that some people throw in the towel earlier than others and that atheism was a privilege of the few, requiring intellectual strength and hardiness.

    Furthermore, no matter how many times I explain the fallacies they are making, that the arguments they have don’t lead to the conclusions they want, and the numerous inconsistencies and contradictions, they still insist on saying the same things over and over. If I ever hear someone say another variation of “I was just like you once”, I will!!!! ARGH! . I apologize for venting. It’s not the debate and criticism I mind, I’m a masochist; it’s the repetition I hate.

    and also powerful defeaters for belief in naturalism, not least of which was the requirement that you adopt a total skepticism of all our reasoning and thinking faculties on a belief system where the mind is formed haphazardly for survival.

    So much wrong. I know not everyone studied neuroscience in grad school, so they all won’t be aware of the growing body of evidence that clearly demonstrates our mental perceptions and memory are not very reliable. But I hear the same things from all of them, so I know that they talk to each other. One of them must know something about this.

  5. 5
    Rachel Meadows

    Is indeterminism the same as free will? Modern physics certainly contains indeterminism – right the way up from the collapse of the wavefunction.

  6. 6
    Cuttlefish

    Rachel–no, actually!

    Indeterminism is quite a different animal altogether from, if you will, self-determinism. There is no “me” that stands as an unmoved mover, a first cause of action, in indeterminism. And that is what libertarian free will requires, and assumes exists, distinct from the rules that characterize the rest of the known universe.

  7. 7
    Pierce R. Butler

    … a total skepticism of all our reasoning and thinking faculties on a belief system where the mind is formed haphazardly for survival.

    I don’t quite understand what “skepticism of faculties on a belief system” means, but if our new friend rejects the consideration of personal/collective biases, or doesn’t realize those last three words form an oxymoron, I do not want to bother asking.

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